In 1971, I drove my best friend to have an illegal abortion. Terrified that she would be injured or killed, I had no choice. It was an illegal abortion or suicide. I drove her home and sat up all night watching for any sign of bleeding or fever. Morning dawned anew.
In 1973, the bonds of slavery encircling women were dissolved. In 2022, women were chained again to their own bodies and, in some cases, to the men who rape them. For the first time ever, the court removed justice and liberty from 51% of the population. More than 90% of Americans think that abortion should be safe and legal in at least some circumstances. Today, most abortions are by medication rather than surgical.
Women run Fortune 500 companies; command billions of dollars in assets; are governors, senators and vice presidents; and the heads of international organizations. These women will not have trouble getting an abortion. They have the money and resources. The burden will fall on the poor, women of color, the refugee.
Anti-abortion callousness is on full display
Women will still get abortions. They must – when their life or health depends on it, when the lives and futures of their existing children depend on it, when they cannot earn enough, and the government will not assist families in need. Abortions will just be more difficult, more expensive, and not as safe. The callousness of those stealing women’s autonomy is on full display already. A 10-year-old in Ohio went to another state for an abortion.
Legislators want to ban the drugs used for abortion, though they are also used for other conditions. An OB-GYN group explained that pregnancy is not a benign condition, and many things can go wrong that result in a miscarriage or the necessity of an abortion. Neither legislators nor the Supreme Court justices care about facts or women.
In the U.S., women have already been arrested for having miscarriages. The Dobbs decision will put that movement on steroids. Digital surveillance of women puts them in danger from police and bounty hunters.
U.S. has a dark history of controlling reproduction
The U.S. has a long history of controlling the reproduction abilities of women, especially women of color. After the transatlantic transport of enslaved people ended, the enslaved population grew fourfold because of selective breeding programs. Not only were Black women forced to breed with Black men, but also women were raped repeatedly by white plantation owners, who then sold their own children into slavery.
The value of enslaved children was related to weight, so the women were forced to breed with the largest and strongest male to produce the biggest children. The law in the American colonies was changed to make the child’s status follow the mother’s so that the child would be enslaved and sold.State control over the bodies of vulnerable women continued with Buck v. Bell in 1927 that authorized mandatory sterilization of inmates in mental institutions. In California, “Asexualization Acts” in the 1910s and 1920s led to the sterilization of approximately 20,000 women, most of whom were Black and Mexican.
Fannie Lou Hamer, who was forcibly sterilized, said the assault was so common it was called a “Mississippi appendectomy.” The Indian Health Service forcibly sterilized nearly 25% of Indigenous women in the 1960s and 1970s. If they can force you to have a child; they can force you not to.
They say they want life but refuse to help moms
The U.S. has an extremely high maternal mortality rate, especially for Black women. Arizona is one of the 10 states with the highest maternal mortality. Compared with other developed countries, the U.S. ranks the worst in maternal care. We are also the only developed country without paid parental leave, with a paucity of maternity care providers, and no guaranteed access to provider home visits.
The shredding of the social safety net means that families cannot care adequately for the children they have. The Legislature has refused to pass bills that would make Arizona family friendly but persists in forcing the poor to face alone the lack of affordable housing, the rise in grocery prices and the absence of medical care.
If they end up on the street, they are blamed and their children taken away to languish in a foster care system that pays strangers $650 a month to care for a child but, even with a just-passed bill (House Bill 2274), pays family members $300 per month to care for their kin.
Adoption is no panacea, either
Adoption is no panacea. Adoption doesn’t address the negative medical impact pregnancy has on the body. The average cost of a private adoption is from $20,000 to $45,000; a state agency adoption costs from $8,000-$45,000.
Since the abortion bans will fall most heavily on women of color, how many families with that kind of money are lined up to adopt Black and brown babies? Those children face a very harsh future. Those who favor forced pregnancy care nothing for the actual child when it is born.
Dianne Post is state coordinator for political action for Arizona NOW (National Organization of Women). Reach her at [email protected].
Arizona Republic, My Turn Column, July 10, 2022